Back in early October, this year’s roller-coaster ride of a season in Montreal kicked off with a historic 9-0 run to start the campaign. However, in one of the quickest reversals of fortunate in NHL history, the Habs unblemished start gave way to a downward spiral that saw the team finish 12 points outside of a playoff spot.
Nonetheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. When each player took his turn in front of the media at locker clean-out day in Brossard, it was clear that the Canadiens players had decided to unite under the common theme of accountability.
“We have to step up and take ownership and responsibility for what happened this season. Yeah we lost Carey Price and had some bad luck with injuries but we honestly just have to demand better out of ourselves at the end of the day,” acknowledged captain Max Pacioretty, who still managed to reach the 30-goal plateau for the 4th time in his career, despite shouldering the heavy responsibility of wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey for the first time. “We know we have to be better, but at the same time we are all in this together. From Marc [Bergevin], to Michel [Therrien], to each and every player in the room, we are all in this together. We had a very tough season, but our system is not the problem here. Moving forward, I can say for certain that we have a good core group here and I know that this season will not come to define us.”
Canadiens All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban - who paced all Canadiens players with 26:22 of ice-time per game - echoed his captain’s sentiments with the same ferocity and assurance.
“After a season like this, it can be easy to start pointing the finger. But in terms of the guys in this room, nobody has any doubts about our leadership group. We’re all on the same page, we all feel confident in each other,” assured Subban, who in case his word wasn’t sufficient to convince the pundits of his unequivocal trust in his team captain, followed up his post-season presser by sneaking into Pacioretty’s own media-opp to give his teammate a big hug on his way out of the dressing room. “Patch is the captain of this team. He’s the right guy for the job of helping us move forward. We all support him fully. We have a long off-season to learn from our mistakes and get better next year.”
As a first year captain with a young leadership core surrounding him, Pacioretty was forced to learn on the job in his pioneer season at the helm of the Canadiens.
“When I look back on my career right now, I think my neck injury stands out as something that has come to define me as a player. That’s a time where I had to step up and decide what kind of player I want to be. That was the defining moment in my career on the ice, I feel like year will be the defining moment for myself as a leader,” expressed the Canadiens leading scorer, who has handled a year’s worth of adversity and hardship with nothing but pure class and professionalism.
Fortunately, the 27-year-old’s task of leading the Canadiens through the storm will be lightened by the ever-positive presence of the Habs energizer bunny Brendan Gallagher; a teammate that will do everything in his power to help Pacioretty and the Canadiens turn the corner and return being a Stanley Cup contender next season.
“Everybody is looking forward to getting back next year and proving that this year was kind of a fluke and does not define us as a group. It was important for us to go through all of this adversity because you can see who really goes to battle for you when things get tough,” admitted Gallagher, whose 29-game absence from the lineup had a dramatic effect on the Canadiens this campaign. “We were in a situation where it would have been much easier just to quit, but the guys still gave everything they had until the very last minute this season. We showed up with a no-quit mentality and I think that helps show character.”
As history books of the Montreal Canadiens storied past are ubiquitous with Stanley Cup victories, Hall of Fame inductions and countless memorable playoff series, ending the season in early April just doesn’t feel right.
However, despite the multitude of misfortune thrown the Canadiens way this season, there were certainly a few silver linings that might have gotten lost in the clouds.
One of those bright spots came in the form of Alex Galchenyuk’s emergence as a lethal goal scorer in the NHL. A two-goal night in the regular-season finale on April 4 against Tampa Bay helped the Canadiens No. 27 reach the 30-goal plateau at just the tender age of 22-years-old.
“It was great to hit 30 goals, but at the end of the day it is difficult to be doing a season review today when you know you aren’t making the playoffs,” recognized Galchenyuk, who concluded the regular-season with a haul of 22 points in his last 22 games, despite nursing a broken finger suffered in the midst of his breakout. “I actually broke my finger about a month ago when we played in Los Angeles, but I was still able to play despite the injury. So I guess it didn’t bother me too much.”
With regards to the blue-line, the ongoing development of Nathan Beaulieu represents another youngster whose progression should give Habs fans something to cheer about. The Habs 23-year-old rearguard managed to post new career highs across the board offensively with new benchmarks set in goals, assists and points.
“Dealing with a couple injuries this year didn’t help, but I think I’ve personally taken a big step forward in my development. I feel like I am a top four NHL defensemen,” noted the Strathroy, Ontario native, whose season was limited to 64 games due to injury. “This is the biggest summer of my life ahead of me. I know there is a top 4 opportunity for me here in Montreal but it is up to me to prove to management that I belong there.”
Furthermore, on the heels of winning a spot on the opening night roster with a strong performance at Canadiens training camp, rookie netminder Mike Condon was thrust into the role of every-day NHL starter despite never suiting up for more than 48 games in a single season.
“I am still in the reflection stages. I learned a lot this season, every day was a lesson. It was quite the experience. I learnt I can play hockey at the NHL level. A lot of guys like to say they can but until you suit up and actually get in there, that’s when you really find out,” concluded Condon.
Turning the page on the 2015-16 season will be challenging, but as Beaulieu attests, the Canadiens have a very capable captain leading the charge.
“I think Patch did a good job in his first year as team captain. The things he had to go through this season were not easy, so we’re definitely happy with our decision to vote him as captain. It is pretty remarkable how he remains so positive after enduring so much this season. I will follow him wherever he needs me to go.”
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com
Press Conference: Management - End of Season
Quotes from the room: April 11
Geoff Molson's Message to Fans
What they said - 2015-16 Season
Making their mark